Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Monday, November 16, 2015

How Sweet are Your Words

What is Midrash?

The root of the word midrash is darash, which is used in the passage where Rivka (Rebecca) goes "to seek the counsel of" (liderosh) the L-rd concerning her difficult pregnancy.  In a similar vein and spirit, the midrash represents an effort to seek out the truth in Scripture.  More generally, midrash encapsulates the interpretation, amplification, and exegesis of a holy and Divinely revealed text: the written Torah.  However, the word midrash has several layers of meaning:

(1)  the process, that is, a particular way of reading and interpreting a verse of the Hebrew Scriptures (the process is and may be recognized in the Greek Writings as well).

(2)  the result of that process, therefore, a given verse and its interpretation, is also called a midrash.

(3)  the collection of the results of such a process or a compilation of such interpretations concerning a particular book of the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e. Genesis Rabbah, a compilation of Midrashic exegesis on the book of Genesis etc.)

How Does Judaism Read Scripture?

First and foremost, it is critical to understand that the Torah is G-d's Word, G-d's instruction which yields not one-time history, but eternal truths.  And so, for the Sages and Rabbis, the Torah speaks in the present, and not merely the past tense.  This understanding is proclaimed every time the Torah scrolls are displayed and the community proclaims: "This is the Torah that Moses set before the children of Israel at the command of G-d."  In other words, the Torah is not merely the story of what happened only once.  It is the expression, embodiment and presentation of eternal truth.

The Rabbinic midrash reads the Bible by transforming the genres of Scripture into patterns that apply to the contemporary world as much as to times past.  In other words, the past is present, and the present is part of the past with past, present and future forming a single plane, as it were.  Perhaps one of the best ways to convey this idea is through a relatively simple illustrative example.  Let's consider a conversation between Boaz and Ruth that is recorded in the Scriptures and expounded upon in a Rabbinic midrash:

[The passage I selected is abbreviated to highlight the critical components which will serve the purposes of our illustration.  For the Sages, Boaz's invitation seems uncharacteristically verbose, especially in light of the fact that he was speaking to a strange woman.  Furthermore, it seems rather ungenerous of Boaz to offer Ruth only a meager morsel of bread.  And it seems trivial to mention where Ruth sat (beside the harvesters) when she ate.  The Sages take nothing for granted in the text and every detail and nuance is considered.  The midrash therefore demonstrates and is careful to address and highlight the significance of all these points, clause by clause, showing how the conversation between Ruth and Boaz refers prophetically to future events.]

Ruth Rabbah 5:6

1. 

A. "And at mealtime Boaz said to her, 'Come here and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the wine.' So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her parched grain; and she ate until she was satisfied and had some left over":

B. R. Yochanan interpreted the phrase "come here" in six ways:

C. "The first speaks of David.

D. "'Come here:' means, to the throne: 'That you have brought me here' (II Samuel 7:18).

E. "' . . . and eat some bread:' the bread of the throne.

F. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this speaks of his sufferings: 'O L-rd do not rebuke me in Your anger' (Psalm 6:2)

G. "' So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne was taken from him for a time."

H. [Resuming from G:] "'and he passed to her parched grain: 'he was restored to the throne: 'Now I know that the L-rd saves His anointed' (Psalm 20:7).

I. "' . . . and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the age to come.

2.

A. "The second interpretation refers to Solomon: 'Come here:' means, to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne: 'And Solomon's provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour and three score measures of meal' (I Kings 5:2).

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this refers to the sullying of Solomon's deeds (that he did).

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne was taken from him for a time."

E. [reverting to D:] "'and he passed to her parched grain:' for he was restored to the throne.

F. "'and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the ages to come.

3.

A. "The third interpretation speaks of Hezekiah: 'Come here:' means to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this refers to the sufferings (Isaiah 5:1): 'And Isaiah said, Let him take a cake of figs' (Isaiah 38:21).

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne was taken from him for a time: 'Thus says Hezekiah. This day is a day of trouble and rebuke' (Isaiah 37:3).

E. "' . . . and he passed to her parched grain:' for he was restored to the throne: 'So that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from then on' (II Chronicles 32:23).

F. "' . . . and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the age to come.

4. 

A. "The fourth interpretation refers to Manasseh: 'Come here' means, to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' for his dirty deeds were like vinegar, on account of his wicked actions.

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for his throne was taken from him for a time: 'And the L-rd spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they did not listen. So the L-rd brought them the captain of the host of the King of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks' (II Chronicles 33:10-11).

E. [Reverting to D:] "'and he passed to her parched grain:' for he was restored to the throne: 'And brought him back to Jerusalem to his kingdom' (II Chronicles 33:13).

F. "' . . . and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the age to come.

5. 

A. "The fifth interpretation refers to the Messiah: 'Come here:' means, to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this is an allusion to the afflictions that the Messiah will undergo, as it is stated concerning the Messiah: 'He is pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon Him is for our benefit, and through His wounds we are healed' (Isaiah 53:5).

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne is destined to be taken from Him for a time: 'For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle and the city shall be taken' (Zechariah 14:2).

E. "' . . . and he passed to her parched grain:' for He will be restored to the throne: 'And He shall smite the land with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked' (Isaiah 11:4)."

F. "so the last Redeemer will be revealed to them and then hidden from them."

(The Midrash then digresses from the discussion of our verse to discuss certain aspects of the Messianic era, and picks up a short time later with the sixth interpretation, referring to Boaz).

Remember, the midrash transforms genres of Scripture into patterns that apply to the contemporary world as much as to times past, forming an enduring paradigm which contains important truths. From our example above, the paradigm is defined as follows:

The Messiah is enthroned, suffers, loses the throne, and is restored to the throne; this paradigm is formed by the following units we outlined above:

(1)  David's monarchy

(2)  Solomon's reign

(3)  Hezekiah's reign

(4)  Manasseh's reign

(5)  the Messiah's reign

All of these 'units' form a single pattern.  For the Sages, the transaction of Boaz and Ruth (the Scripture under discussion and being interpreted) contains the whole of Israel's future history of redemption through possession, loss, and restoration: the Messiah is likened to Israel in possessing, losing, and regaining the throne, as Israel lost but was restored to the land - and will be once more by the same Messiah.  All things transpire on a single plane of time.  Past, present, and future are not differentiated, which is why a single action may contain within itself an entire account of Israel's redemptive history under the aspect of eternity.

The foundations of the paradigm rest on the fact that David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and therefore also the Messiah, all descend from Ruth and Boaz's union, and all gained, lost, and regained the throne.  From within the framework of the paradigm, the event that is described here - "And at mealtime Boaz said to her, 'Come here and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the wine.'  So she sat beside the reapers , and he passed to her parched grain; and she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over" - forms not so much an event as a pattern, and the exegesis serves to demonstrate how the details of the pattern are fleshed out and realized in the successive Davidic monarchs, culminating in King Messiah.

The pattern transcends time.  What we have is a tableau, joining together persons who lived at widely separated moments, linking them all as presences in this simple exchange between Boaz and Ruth.  And so we see the presence of the past, for David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and so on, and also the pastness of the present in which David or Solomon - or the Messiah - lived or would live.

Of course, we may go even one step further, benefitting from even more light.  Those of us who identify and embrace Yeshua as the Messiah will recognize that He fits the fifth interpretation quite nicely and I would argue indisputably so:

5. 

A. "The fifth interpretation refers to the Messiah: 'Come here:' means, to the throne.
 

(Of course the Messiah reign as King some day, as numerous passages in the Tanakh indicate)

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

(Yeshua often spoke of Himself as the bread of life and the true manna Who came down from heaven.)

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this refers to the sufferings of the Messiah: 'But He was wounded because of our transgressions' (Isaiah 53:5).

(Of course, we are familiar with the sufferings He endured, in order to make propitiation for the sins of Israel and the world entire.)

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne is destined to be taken from Him for a time: 'For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle and the city shall be taken' (Zechariah 14:2).

(Many wanted to crown Yeshua King at a certain point during His ministry, and He entered
Jerusalem in the manner of a king, riding on a donkey to shouts of Hosanna; and "King of the Jews was written and posted over His head on the execution stake. But it was not yet time to restore the throne to Him.)

E. "' . . . and he passed to her parched grain:' for He will be restored to the throne: 'And He shall smite the land with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the
wicked' (Isaiah 11:4)."


(Upon His return, He will reign as King over all the earth when all the kingdoms of this world
become the kingdoms of the L-rd and His Messiah.)

F. "so the last Redeemer will be revealed to them and then hidden from them."
      
(This is exactly how it happened: the Messiah was revealed to Israel in the person and work of Yeshua the Messiah, and now for a time has been hidden from them. Yeshua declared and taught that this would be so, that He was going away for a time. Much like Joseph was not recognized by his brothers until he was revealed to them a second time, so to with the Messiah, when one day, Israel will look upon the one Whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only Son.)

The approach illustrated above is, to put it mildly, challenging for the Greco-Western mind, which likes things systematic, compartmentalized, and tidyFor me, it's all about the Messiah and His work of redemption.  I believe that He is on every single page of the Scriptures without exception and that there are countless pictures of Him to be discovered everywhere.  We need only ask Him, as King David did, to open our eyes to perceive wonderful things in His Word.  

To be continued  . . .

17 comments:

  1. I read this last night and you are right, it is hard to wrap my mind around this. For one it seems that the example you used departs from the Peshat. I realize that sometimes pattern equals prophecy in Jewish thinking. When do you know to do that? I see no reason textually to assume the line of thinking you have shown.

    In the case of Ruth you cited, could the text be reporting and giving Boaz credit for his mitzvah? Ruth after all was a beggar gleaning in his fields and had pledged herself to do this in support of her mother in law. Boaz knew of the reason for her service and repaid her kindness with more generosity. He did this in other ways too, like when he had his reapers let her reap where they were working and having them leave extra grain behind for her to pick up.

    Since Ruth was a Moabite, Boaz need do nothing beyond let her go thru his harvested fields. Even then, they could have pushed her to the back of the line so to speak and let the poor Jews glean ahead of her. Boaz knew who she was, saw how hard she worked, knew why she was working and rewarded her. His mitzvah to Ruth was rewarded by acknowledgement in scripture for all to see and have as an example. The text isn't being verbose as suggested, it’s simply being accurate to events and providing a detailed example of a mitzvah.

    Bullet points (for the western mind)

    Ruth's mitzvah:
    • Comforting Naomi
    • Working to support Naomi
    • Humbling herself to gleaning

    Boaz mitzvah:
    • Granted access to his field to a Moabite to glean
    • Orders Ruth’s protection
    • Made her work easier
    • Increased her harvest
    • Gave her provisions equal to his workers
    • Increases her status above his workers “come here” and eat with me
    • Gives her more than she can eat

    Boaz went above and beyond the Torah requirements. Is the text being verbose therefor indicating a prophecy, or is it a concrete demonstration of what a mitzvah should look like? Boaz is tzadik. This is what tzadik looks like.

    Please show me how/why the interpretation you used is the proper one and how or why I should have picked up on that and not the one I put forward.

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  2. Well, this is good. This is very good.

    I think I threw you and whoever else reads this post into the deep end. My response to your inquiry here will be the subject of my next post. Your questions were exactly the types of questions I was hoping this post would provoke, particularly in regards to p'shat.

    Does the interpretation (d'rash in this case) strip the passage of p'shat? If so, how? If not, why not?

    Remember, Jewish hermeneutics deals with layers of meaning, like the layers of an onion. It also deals with paradigmatic thinking.

    Maybe an example you're more familiar with will be helpful:

    What do we make of Paul's d'rash here:

    This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of G-d Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.

    First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

    Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!

    Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham.

    This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living.

    One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.


    There is a similar dynamic and paradigm at work here in Hebrews 7. Has Paul compromised the P'saht? What is he doing here? He talks about tithing to the Levites centuries before they are on the scene, centuries before Sinai! Nothing in the original text to which he is referring and citing as proof and support for the position he is arguing indicates this . . . explicitly (Genesis 14).

    I bolded the areas for deeper consideration. I will comment later on this, G-d willing, but I leave the Hebrews passage to your thoughtful consideration for now . . .

    The OP is a prime example of Hebrew thought and hermeneutics. It frustrates the Western mind. Your questions and objections are key. It is critical to continue engaging and wrestling as you are.

    BTW, I wouldn't expect anyone, not even myself, to start from scratch with a Scripture like Ruth and draw the conclusions that were expressed in the midrash above. However, the more you familiarize yourself with the overall approach, you will begin to recognize these patterns and layers of meaning and recognize when these methods are being used, as in the case of Paul and others. Paul, as a star pupil of Gamliel, was steeped in this type of Rabbinic exegesis, which is one of the reasons some of the things which Paul writes are simply inaccessible to the Western Christian mind, as well-meaning as they may be. Even Peter, an untrained fisherman, concede this fact.

    I think this is going to be a productive series of posts. I really appreciate the feedback which is helpful for me.

    More to come, G-d willing, in he next post.

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  3. I confess I'm not following the similitude between Ruth and Paul. I'll wait for your next post to comment further on that because you'll probably develop the idea further and that might help me grasp the concept better.

    I'm really wanting to master the hermeneutic. I don't know if I'll adopt it fully but it is proving useful in expanding my understanding.

    One aspect of Jewish scholarship that I'm not able to figure out is how various extra biblical figures are introduced and detailed stories are developed about them. Then these stories are accepted as fact. For example I offer two women, Lilith and Nitzevet. There is no biblical evidence for either of these two names. Granted we can assume the existence of David's mother but we know nothing of her. Yet in both cases there is detailed information given. Is this information darash or something else? Perhaps I'm confusing a result with a method.

    As a point of strictly historical scholarship, why should I accept as authentic these "insights" and stories when the date that they came into being is over 1,000 years after the destruction of Jerusalem?

    FWIW the onion metaphor is helpful. Thank you.

    On another (related) tangent Sforno hypothesizes that Hashem's intention was that Israel would be a nation of priests. According to his theory the Golden calf incident prevented this from happening. From a Christian theological perspective this is an intriguing insight. I have to question how he came up with this hermeneutically. It seems to me that it is possible that a man who was born and educated in the 1400's in a Christian nation might have picked up that POV from something other than the Torah. If he did gain that insight strictly from Torah or Tanakh study, how did 3,000 years worth of students miss it? Of course I recognize that perhaps the Jewish community has engaged in some theological revisionism as a reaction to Christianity. Even considering that possibility, I think someone else would have written it down Sforno's idea first.

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  4. I realize that some of these posts and exchanges come across as almost personal correspondence. If some of your congregants or others that drop by have insights that might help, I'd love to hear them.

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  5. "I'll wait for your next post to comment further on that because you'll probably develop the idea further and that might help me grasp the concept better."

    I am working on this. I realized I probably need to take a few steps back in the presentation. Garden of the Torah is a good jumping off point and I am pleased with that, but in my excitement to present this material, this post may have jumped too far ahead. So, I am going to dial things back a bit and work through your questions.

    "Then these stories are accepted as fact."

    A bit of advice at this stage and this is going to sound counter-intuitive perhaps, but try not to get too hung up on whether or not the stories and legends can be substantiated. For now, try to focus on the thinking that underlies the stories and the truths that are being conveyed. The stories are a snapshot into the way the Sages thought about what was transpiring in the text.

    Think about some of Yeshua's parables, for example. He tells stories filled with characters (e.g. the good Samaritan, the Prodigal son, the ungrateful servant, etc, etc), and we don't get too concerned about whether there really was a prodigal son or a robbery that left a man to die on the way to Jericho. Yesua tells the stories in such a way that we believe them to be possible and we know that the stories have something to teach us.

    In a similar way, so do the stories and legends you might encounter in the rabbinic literature. Rabbinic literature is not Scripture, but it provides us with tremendous insight into how the Sages thought about the Scriptures. Whether or not things can be verified, is not as important as the lessons or meanings the Sages were trying to convey.

    Again, the Western mind wants to quote a Scripture and a verse to substantiate every idea . . . which is not a bad thing . . . but there are other hermeneutic methods which the Sages and Torah Scholars had at their disposal which help us to peal back the layers of that proverbial onion.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I realize its all a process and I'm not too far along the path. I'm happy to learn and appreciate that I'm putting you to a hard task in teaching me.

      Delete
  6. "On another (related) tangent Sforno hypothesizes that Hashem's intention was that Israel would be a nation of priests. According to his theory the Golden calf incident prevented this from happening. I have to question how he came up with this hermeneutically."

    This is easily verifiable from the text of the Torah. I am at work right now, but I can point you to the places in the Torah which substantiates the Sforno's (and others') position. I'll get that together for you this evening, G-d willing.

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    1. There is a good bit that I struggle with in the sages writing. Sometimes I can see some of how they arrived at a conclusion, other times I can't. Other times I'm convinced they just made it up.

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  7. "On another (related) tangent Sforno hypothesizes that Hashem's intention was that Israel would be a nation of priests. According to his theory the Golden calf incident prevented this from happening. I have to question how he came up with this hermeneutically."

    Premise 1 - Kingdom of Priests (before the incident with the Golden Calf)

    'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.

    Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

    So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the L-RD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, "We will do everything the L-RD has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the L-RD.


    (Exodus 19:4-8)

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  8. Premise 2 - Status of Firstborn

    "Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal . . .

    (Exodus 13:2)

    The L-RD said to Moses, "Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the Tent of Meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle. They are to take care of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle.

    Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him. Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death." The L-RD also said to Moses, "I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman.

    The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the L-RD."

    (Numbers 3:5-13)

    The L-RD said to Moses, "Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the LORD." So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the LORD commanded him.

    The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273. The L-RD also said to Moses, "Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD.

    To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelite to Aaron and his sons." So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel.

    Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the L-RD.


    (Numbers 3:40-51)

    In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. "After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the Tent of Meeting.

    They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel.


    (Numbers 8:14-18)

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  9. Premise 3 - The Golden Calf Incident

    Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the L-RD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him.

    Then he said to them, "This is what the L-RD, the G-d of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'"

    The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the L-RD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."


    (Exodus 32:25-29)

    These are the key verses to consider in light of the Sforno's comment. I will provide comments to these Scriptures in hopes of elucidating the interpretation you mentioned later this evening, G-d willing. Stay tuned.

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  10. I'm looking forward to it.

    Res Ipsa

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  11. "On another (related) tangent Sforno hypothesizes that Hashem's intention was that Israel would be a nation of priests. According to his theory the Golden calf incident prevented this from happening. I have to question how he came up with this hermeneutically."

    Premise 1 - Kingdom of Priests (before the incident with the Golden Calf)

    'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.

    Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

    So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the L-RD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, "We will do everything the L-RD has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the L-RD.


    (Exodus 19:4-8)

    You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and did for you at one and the same time, to the greatest human power on earth, I threw them to the ground and humbled them because they opposed Me by force, while you I brought to Myself. You were helpless and down trodden, but I raised you high above the reach of your enemies and brought you into direct relationship with Me. You have seen that I am the only One in Whom man should trust.

    And now you have come to this place to which I have summoned you that you should enter My service on this mountain. If you earnestly desire to obey Me and keep My covenant, then the fundamental condition I set is that you become – more than all the other nations – segulah (treasured possession) to Me.

    Segulah denotes an exclusive possession, a possession to which no one else but its owner is entitled, and which has no relationship to anyone except its owner. Applied to our relationship with G-d, the term segulah sets a fundamental condition: that we become His possession, completely and exclusively His, with every fiber of our being, with every aspect of our nature and aspirations. Our whole existence should be dependent upon Him alone. He, and no other, should shape our way of life and give direction to our actions.

    It is not an exceptional relationship but the beginning and renewal of the normal relationship that should exist between G-d and all the earth. Accordingly, all mankind and all nations are His, and He is educating them to become His.

    And the Sages understand that it is precisely for this ultimate destiny of all the earth, if you will, that they are to be to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Each and every one of the Israelites was to become a Kohen, a priest, by allowing all their actions to be regulated by Him and accepting upon themselves the kingdom of heaven and living up to it. Through their word and living example, they were to spread the knowledge of G-d and worship of Him.

    As Isaiah says: “But you will be called priests of G-d, people will refer to you as ministers of our G-d” (Isaiah 61:6).

    You are to be a unique nation among the nations, a nation that does not live for its own renown, its own greatness, its own glory, but for the establishment and glorification of the kingdom of G-d on earth. This nation is not to seek its greatness in power and might, but in the rule of G-d’s moral law and righteousness.

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  12. In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. "After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the Tent of Meeting.

    They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel.


    (Numbers 8:14-18)

    Thus you shall set the Levi’im apart from the nation and signify that they belong to G-d. Aaron and his descendants had no original claim on the Levi’im, rather, the Levi’im are “givne” to them for purposes ordained by G-d.

    The service of the sanctuary devolves first and foremost on all of Israel. Formerly, (prior to the Golden Calf) they performed it through their firstborn sons; henceforth, it shall be done by the Levi’im.

    Note carefully the phrase in verse 19: “to effect atonement for the children of Israel.“ If we understand this expression correctly, the dismissal of the firstborn and their replacement by the Levi’im (who faithfully and dutifully came over to Moses at the incident of the Golden Calf and at that time, were “set apart unto the L-rd . . and He blessed them that day”) who serve as a kind of continuous kaparah, atonement, for the sin of the golden calf.

    It is also a warning for future generations to remember that first great sin; for that sin clearly demonstrated how vast was the gulf between the actual state of the nation and the people and their great mission that had previously been expressed to them when He declared that they were his segulah, a kingdom of priests, a holy (set apart) nation.

    It became clear at that dreadful and disappointing juncture that the nation still needed to be educated. This was formally acknowledged by the nation when it willingly replaced the firstborn with the Levi’im at G-d’s behest through Moses.

    Already, on the day of Lawgiving, it was brought to the people’s attention that they were still far from achieving the ultimate purpose ordained for them in the Torah: a royal priesthood, a holy nation. The Torah is in the category of something given: it was brought to the people and may therefore never be tampered with, and Israel is neither obligated nor permitted to subjectively devise any form of worshiping G-d. The blatant disregard of this fact is the root of the sin of the golden calf

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  13. I can follow the logic. I agree with the idea that he has put together. I was predisposed to accepting it as correct. The larger point still is why it took till the 1500's before we have it recorded?

    To me the point is faith affirming and easy to accept at first glance.

    Res Ipsa

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  14. Premise 3 - The Golden Calf Incident

    Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the L-RD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him.

    Then he said to them, "This is what the L-RD, the G-d of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'"

    The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the L-RD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."


    (Exodus 32:25-29)

    The most urgent step to be taken is to restore the Torah’s authority in the midst of the people awho would confront and deal with those who are hostile to the Torah. The loyalists happen to be the Levi’im.

    After the Levi’im had completed the act that saved the Torah, Moshe said to them milu yedkem hayom l’Hashem – assume full authority for yourselves on behalf of G-d. May you continue in the future to be what you have begun to be today. Make yourselves zealots and champions of G-d’s Torah.

    G-d will grant blessing and success in your endeavors. The passion you displayed for G-d on your own initiative will bear abundant fruit. Because you did not spare you next of kin, you need have no scruples in coming forward publicly.

    The Levi’im put to death those who guilt was most serious (about 3000). As a result the Torah’s authority was restored and the nation’s survival as a nation was assured.

    About Levi he said: "Your Thummim and Urim belong to the man you favored. You tested him at Massah; you contended with him at the waters of Meribah. He said of his father and mother, 'I have no regard for them.'

    He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar.


    (Deuteronomy 33:8-10)

    And so, prior to the incident with the golden calf, every firstborn was consecrated to the L-rd to serve him in the capacity of priest. Every firstborn was to serve as a priest, and in that way the nation would literally be a kingdom of priests. With the golden calf, the nation abdicated this responsibility and one tribe was set apart and designated to serve exclusively in that role.

    The tribe who had distinguished themselves by their zeal and devotion to G-d’s Word. Later, in the spirit of that same zeal, another individual, Pinchas, would act similarly in a similar context and be similarly rewarded with a covenant of peace forever.

    One caveat: I did not know the exact comment of the Sforno you referenced, the text upon which he was commenting, or the context of his comment. So, I was flying somewhat blind. Nevertheless, I think I have given you a pretty good sense of where the rabbis could infer from the Sforno's comment you mentioned.

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  15. I'm sorry for not getting back to this sooner. The Sforno comment was in the Stones Edition of the Chumash someplace around Exodus 30. It was a one line comment that they didn't give a specific cross reference for. I could look it up and quote it for you, but I think you more than answered (and proved his point) the question. Thanks

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